Chapter 8


Before the apocalypse, Leo happened to be the first one awake most days. Chalk it up to his abysmal sleep schedule and chronic insomnia. He counted it as a good night if he went to bed before three o’clock. Considering the high stress that came with the end of the world as they knew it, he was lucky to get even a wink of sleep. That being said, he was simultaneously shocked and completely unsurprised that someone was awake before him.

Junior stretched in the middle of the cave, hair tied back with a sash. He didn’t appear to have any outward signs that he’d been crying which was good but it made Leo all the more curious as to why his nephew wasn’t sleeping at the crack of dawn. Junior turned toward his uncle like he knew the slider was observing him. For a seven-year-old, Junior seemed far too old and tired. Leo couldn’t exactly blame him for that, though. The kid just lost his dad.

“Hey, squirt,” Leo said softly. He ruffled Junior’s hair–a surefire way to get the kid to giggle–but it garnered no reaction. The turtle laughed it off, awkwardly rubbing the back of his neck. “You’re sure up early.”

He half-expected Junior to start acting sleepy then, tug at his pants even, and ask him to tell him a story so he could fall asleep. That’s what his nephew usually did whenever anyone pointed out that it was past his bedtime or too soon for him to get out of bed. Instead, Junior simply stared at him. That’s when Leo noticed the sword on the ground. It was his sword. The one that Raph hucked to save them. He had it by his bedroll the last time he checked. How’d it get out here?

“I wondered when you’d notice,” Junior answered, watching him carefully. “Snatched it from you last night. You didn’t notice?” Leo shook his head, dumb-founded. That must’ve been the response Junior was looking for because he lifted his chin and, with the straightest face a child could muster, said, “I think you should train me.”

That woke Leo right up. He brushed off his initial surprise. “Look, this is impressive but snatching one sword doesn’t mean… you’re, uh…” His argument petered out as he watched Junior reach into his pockets and pull out an assortment of weapons.

After a concerningly long amount of time, a pile had accumulated at his feet. Bewildered, Leo looked at Junior who was unimpressed. “I’m silent, fast on my feet, a quick learner–I have the makings of a great ninja,” he argued. “I just need a sensei.”

The kid had a point. Leo knew he had the humble beginnings of a ninja, yet… “Why not ask your mom to train you? She has more experience than I do. Not to mention the years of technical training and her combat skills with different weapons. Need I say more?”

Junior picked up a small cylinder from the pile, fiddling with it before hitting a button on its side. It triggered the release on the cylinder, expanding it into a six-foot tall bō staff. Donnie’s. Man, the kid was good.

“Mom said no.”

“Then why are you asking me?”

It went without saying that when Casey said something was off-limits for Junior, that was the end of the discussion. As her baby, if anything happened to him because someone else went against her wishes… Leo shuddered at the thought.

Junior remained unaffected. “Mama’s not the boss of you.”

Leo froze, standing ramrod straight.

This is a trap. This is a trap. This is a–

“You want to get a sword that is easy to hold and handle with two hands. At least to start off with.” Leo studied Junior’s form, fixing his posture and grip. “A longer blade means you don’t have to get as close to an opponent to strike.”

Junior followed Leo’s instructions with a narrow-minded focus. Still, the sword weighed heavily in his hands. He could see his reflection in it. Muddled and warbled by way of the blade. His brow was furrowed in concentration, creating a deep crease on his forehead. It made his face look unnatural. For a moment, it flashed like an image in his mind–two glowing, yellow eyes.

The sword clattered to the ground as Junior pressed the heel of his palm against his right eye. Leo hovered over him in an instant. He inspected his nephew for a minute or two before coming to the conclusion that the weapon was simply too heavy for the kid. Of course, it was. Junior was only seven.

“Maybe something else would suit you better…” Leo rubbed his chin in thought. “Something more proportional.” He made a rectangle with his fingers and looked at Junior through it. An orange flash of light came from behind them. “Miguel, what do you think would suit CJ? I’m leaning toward Donnie’s version of a cherry bomb.” He turned to see his younger brother’s reaction. Only an unimpressed expression greeted him. “What? You’re gonna stop me from cracking a joke? That’s how I cope!” He had a big grin on his face until he remembered that Mikey had been on patrol with Casey. “Where’s Jones?”

“She’s fine,” Mikey reassured, smacking Leo’s hand as his older brother checked his hood. Like he could hide a whole human in there. “She detected some movement on the horizon and wanted me to get the go-bags ready. Just in case.” He looked between Leo and Junior, his skeptical baby brother senses tingling. “Wait… You’re training Junior. Casey said that’s off-limits!”

Just as Mikey had begun tearing into Leo, he felt the cold pinpricks of a bond. He was being summoned. Closing his eyes, he could see the translucent orange chains that connected him to his family. He reached out, calling forth the energy drawing him to another. A chain materialized in his hand. With the other, he pulled until the very fabric of space gave way and he was able to snatch Casey. When he reopened his eyes, Casey seemed about ready to vomit. She glared at him.

“A little less turbulent next time wouldn’t kill you,” she grumbled. She stretched out, her back audibly cracking as she pointed at Leo. “We gotta move.”

“What? Why? Mikey just showed up. You can’t be making a call that fast–”

“The kraang are coming,” she cut in, effectively shutting him up. “I suggest having Orange teleport the heavy stuff to a new location while the rest of us travel on foot.” She walked over to Junior, placing a hand on his shoulder. “Can you wake up the others for me?” She spoke quietly so only he could hear. He gave her a stiff nod and left to do just that. Casey watched him for a few moments then turned back to Leo. Mikey had already disappeared to gather the heavier items. “Blue, I need you on your best behavior.”

Leo scoffed. What’d she take him for? “I’m not a kid, Jones,” he joked lightheartedly. He scooped up his sword. Casey stood too close for comfort when he rose.

“Then act like it,” she said in a low, even tone. “Junior is going through a lot. He doesn’t need a goofball. He needs someone he can rely on.” She shoved her pointer finger against his plastron hard enough to push him back a couple steps. “Set an example.”

They stared at each other in silence, neither refusing to give an inch. That’s how April found them. She watched them, her eyebrow twitching. Donnie, still groggy after being roused from his slumber earlier than expected, held onto Junior’s hand. He yawned loudly, breaking the tension. Casey took her eyes off Leo. She had an escape plan to prepare.

The team hadn’t made as much headway as Casey wanted by nightfall. It was safer to duck inside a building until morning than it would be to use flashlights at night. She surveyed everyone. They were preparing to sleep, setting their bedrolls down. Donnie hadn’t been much help planning hypothetical security details on the trek but she wasn’t surprised. When he didn’t get enough sleep, Donnie acted like a battery that’d lost its juice. Casey made sure to tuck him in, nice and neat in his bedroll with a kiss on the forehead. He mumbled his gratitude incoherently as she moved on to do the same with everyone else. Leo sat away from the others, fussing with his sword. He twirled it to form small portals that fizzled out after seconds passed. He scowled after the fifteenth failed attempt.

“You should rest,” Casey suggested, placing a hand on his shoulder. “It’s been a long day. Tomorrow’s gonna be even longer.”

He knew she meant it in a kind and caring way. Normally, he’d act like it was nothing or even follow her suggestion, but Leo had been on edge for hours. So instead, he shrugged her hand off and said, “I’m not a child. I think I can make my own decisions.”

Her eye twitched. He half-expected her to start wrestling with him right then and there. But she didn’t. Surprisingly, she took a deep, long breath, then sat down in front of him. It forced him to look down at her which was uncomfortable.

“I know you’re not a child. I just need you to take this seriously. We all need to be well-rested–”

“Don’t talk to me like that,” Leo interjected.

“Like what,” Casey snapped back.

It was clear she hadn’t meant to but it was the opening he’d subconsciously been waiting for.

“Like you’re him.”

Pain flashed briefly across her face. It immediately gave way to anger. Just as she opened her mouth to officially cement that they were having this argument now, Junior snapped up into a sitting position on his bedroll. His chest rose and fell rapidly as he looked around frantically. The fury quickly dissipated to make room for concern. They both joined his sides, taking his hands so he had something to focus on.

“What’s wrong,” Casey whispered, brushing his bangs off his forehead. “A nightmare?”

Junior’s eyes widened further–if that was even possible. “You don’t hear that?”

“Hear what?”

As if right on cue, a shrill whistle filled the air, increasing in volume as a flare of red light crashed into a building across the street. April and Donnie startled awake.

“What’s happening,” Donnie slurred.

April rushed to get out of her bedroll, much more alert. She lifted Donnie onto her back. Another thunderous blast took out the building next to theirs. “We need to move. Fast.”

Casey snatched Leo’s sword off the ground where he’d left it, shoving it into his hand. “Blue, we need a portal,” she ordered.

He fumbled with the blade, producing a portal that sputtered and died immediately. He tried again. The same sad excuse for a portal formed and dissolved. “I– I can’t–”

“You can.” She grabbed him by the shoulders. “You have to! Your family needs you!”

Leo’s hand shook as he gripped the sword. It wobbled while he tried to draw a circle. Overhead, the ceiling trembled with the force of another blast. A blue portal swirled lazily into existence. It held its shape for a few seconds then collapsed in on itself. He watched in abject horror as their last hope to escape crumbled away. Suddenly, Casey grabbed his hand. Everything went bright.

The building disintegrated.

When Leo opened his eyes, he expected the translucent green light of Hamato energy surrounding him, welcoming him to the spirits of the clan. All he saw was the twilight sky, always slightly tinted red. He sat up, his muscles incredibly sore, and looked around. Everyone else was slowly coming to. Their groans signifying that they were alive. A sharp pain pinched his side as he tried to get up.

“CJ,” he called. “Where are you, kid?” Junior rolled out of a bush appearing no worse for wear. Leo sighed in relief. “Donnie? April?” Affirmative grunts were his only response. He slumped against a tree. “Jones?” Nothing. Fear shot through him like a bullet. He pushed himself to rise, using the tree as a crutch. “Casey!”

Finally, from above, Casey let out a wounded sound. She was stuck between a couple branches. Leo hacked away at one until she was able to drop down. Scratches and cuts littered her body but nothing too life-threatening. No, nothing to dampen the fury burning in her eyes.

“What the hell was that?”

“A kraang must’ve found us–”

“No, I mean you!” Casey was seething, her face turning red. “Why didn’t you make a portal?”

The same frustration from before reared its ugly head. “I couldn’t– I tried to– You saw–” Leo stomped his foot in frustration. “I am trying my best here!”

“We could’ve died in there, Blue. This is life or death.” She gestured in the vague direction of the city and accidentally smacked another branch. She hissed, clutching her hand. “‘s not something you can fix with a one-liner or a half-assed apology. When are you gonna get that through your thick skull–”

“Stop it!” Junior shoved his small body between them. “Stop fighting,” he shouted. “Just leave me here. If it means you’ll act like a family again, I’ll stay right here.”

Casey and Leo stared at each other, completely flabbergasted. Junior held his hands together, avoiding eye contact. Leo knelt beside him. “Hey, it’s okay. Your mom and I aren’t arguing because of you–”

“But you’re fighting because Dad’s gone.”

“Ah.” Leo spoke without meaning to, the surprise propelling him forward. “Yes. Well…”

Casey jumped in. “We’re all just stressed.” She smoothed her son’s hair. “That doesn’t mean it’s your fault–”

“But it is!” Junior pushed them away. He took a couple of steps back to separate himself from his family. “Don’t you get it? Why the kraang keep finding us–it’s because of me!” He had a wild look in his eyes like he hadn’t slept in days. Maybe he hadn’t. “I heard them coming but no one believed me.” He pressed the heel of his palm against his right eye. “I see them everywhere. Whenever I close my eyes–when I sleep.” He let out a bark of laughter. “But none of you will do anything about it because I’m the baby. I’m perfect, you love me–open your eyes! There’s something wrong with me.”

The silence that followed his proclamation carried a weight. It felt like someone dropped an anvil on Leo’s chest. This was what his nephew thought? The entire time he’d spent arguing with Casey, he never stopped to consider how it would affect Junior. It wasn’t time for petty squabbles fueled by grief. His family needed him.



“Just listen to me.” He stepped forward. “Please.” He waited for a moment in case Junior did something risky like run off. The kid remained still. “You’re probably right.”


“Trust me,” he hissed. “I got this.” Casey held his gaze, searching for something. Whatever it was, she must’ve found it. She let go of his hand. He went closer to Junior. “You probably have a point. You were always smarter than we gave you credit for. We can blame Donnie for that.” Leo inhaled, releasing it in a long sigh. “We’ve spent years wondering what was wrong with you. Even when you were a baby, you’d spend days at a time in the medbay. But you know what?”

“What?” Junior asked weakly.

“Casey was miserable before you came along. We all were. In the apocalypse, all you can hope for is to survive. Then you showed up.” Junior peered at him from under his bangs. Leo shot him a grin. “What a game changer, you were. It was like everything got flipped upside-down in the best way possible. We went from a badass group of ninjas to taking turns cleaning shit off you.” He chuckled at the memories that came to the forefront of his mind. “Raph loved you. No matter how many times you peed on him, used his spikes to teethe–he was gonna love you to pieces.” Leo tapped Junior’s chin, forcing him to look up. “You gave him hope. You gave him a reason to keep fighting for a better future. It doesn’t matter what you are or aren’t. You’re family. We’re not leaving you behind.” Junior’s eyes watered, tears streaking down his cheeks. Leo’s heart clenched. “Oh, kid. C’mere.”

It didn’t take much coaxing to get his nephew to hug him. He scooped Junior up as best he could. He nodded at the others, silently beckoning them into the embrace. They joined immediately. Even Casey.

April walked ahead of them. She had taken Donnie’s tech brace and slid it on her own forearm to follow the pulse of light tracking Mikey’s location. Donnie fell further down her back. She jumped a bit to push him back up, her free hand holding onto Junior.

Casey watched them with a wistful look in her eyes. “I’m sorry for yelling at you,” she whispered. If Leo wasn’t lagging behind with her, he wouldn’t have heard it. “I know you’re trying. We’re all trying to… to fill this hole that’s left.” She tugged at her shirt, the fabric puckering under the tension. “I’m trying so hard to be him for everyone else. For myself. To make up for what I did.”

Leo kept his gaze forward. “You’re never gonna be Raph, Case. That’s okay. We want Casey Jones.” He took her hand in his and gave it a gentle squeeze. “I need a headstrong, stubborn as all hell woman to call me out on my bullshit.” He sighed, watching Junior point down another path to follow. “You were right.” At her confused sideways glance, he added, “About me. Junior needs Master Leonardo and all he’s got is this guy.” He couldn’t even punctuate his sentence by lightheartedly jabbing his thumb at himself because his only hand was occupied. That made it less funny. More serious.

“He needs his Uncle Leo too.” Casey squeezed his hand.

Tears pricked the corners of his eyes. He cleared his throat to mask the surge of emotions rising within him. Might as well bite the bullet and tell her now… “CJ actually asked me to train him.”

Leo expected yelling, explosions, Armageddon. Instead, Casey chuckled. Chuckled. “Guess he is like me.” She knocked her shoulder against his. “At ease, Blue. I knew this day was coming. I was just delaying the inevitable.”

“Then why tell him no in the first place?”

“He’s my baby,” she answered simply. “I wanna protect him from the world we see everyday. The moment he learns to fight–he won’t need me anymore.”

“That’s not true.” This time, he bumped into her. “You’re gonna protect that kid ‘til the day you die.”

“Hey! We’re going under,” April called back to them. She was already lifting a manhole cover and instructing Junior on how to climb down the ladder.

Casey gave her a thumbs-up, her eyes shiny. There was a serene, almost peaceful smile on her face. “When you put it like that, Blue, I don’t think I need to know anything else about my future.”

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